I read a fascinating story about the discovery that linked hand washing to the prevention of disease. In the 1840s, women were dying at alarming rates — not during child birth, but days afterward. No one knew the cause of the mysterious “child birth fever” that took the lives of the mothers.

During the same period, doctors were beginning to become more scientific in their work, thus began conducting autopsies with regularity. It was not uncommon for a doctor to do an autopsy as part of his day, then go directly to treat other patients — without washing hands or changing clothes.

Enter Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis who wondered why the ward with doctors had 5x the childbirth deaths as the ward with midwives. His answer came when a colleague pricked his finger during an autopsy and died. Dr. Semmelweis then realized the deaths were not linked to child birth, rather to the autopsies. He reasoned that some type of poison was seeping from the body, and ordered doctors to use chlorine after their procedures.

Happy ending, right? Wrong. The other doctors did not believe they were responsible for the deaths, and would not accept Semmelweis’ findings. Instead, they fired him and sent him to an asylum where he died. Twenty years later, the work of Louis Pasteur confirmed that Semmelweis was correct, and hand washing has become common practice.

The next time you have a problem to solve, think of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis. Pay attention to the clues and draw conclusions on the facts, not on what people have believed. And if you know your conclusion is correct, stay with it, even if others won’t believe you until after you are gone.

Full story linked in Chelsea Clinton’s Tweet

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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